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Albuquerque apartment residents form union, protest ‘uninhabitable conditions’

Simona Muniz, a resident at Artisan Village Apartments in Albuquerque, calls for better living conditions from property owner Chad Rennaker. (Jeanette DeDios / KUNM News)
Members have laid out a list of conditions at Artisan Village

Tenants of the Artisan Village in Albuquerque’s Sawmill neighborhood have formed a union to demand that the owners and property managers address ongoing issues. They held a rally this week at the property.

Members of the Sawmill Tenants Union said they are living in “uninhabitable conditions” in their apartments. The People’s Housing Project is helping the tenants, and organizer Anna Lee DeSaulniers spoke at the rally.

“I just want to put into perspective what this new sawmill union is asking for,” she said. “Housing should be a human right. They’re just asking for the things that were in their lease upon an agreement to be upheld. That is the very basic thing that they are asking for, and absolutely have every right to ask for. Housing should be a human right, but it’s not.”

Collectively they drafted a letter notifying PacifiCap Property Management and the Sawmill Community Land Trust, which helped develop the property, of the union formation. It also laid out a list of conditions at the property that union members say violate Sawmill’s stated mission of providing “high-quality affordable housing.”

Among the complaints are fire hazards, overflowing trash bins, broken elevators and unsafe roofs that allow water into some apartments. They are also demanding long-term leases.

Simona Muniz is a seven-year resident of Artisan Village who said she doesn’t feel secure living here because the rent continues to rise with month-to-month agreements.

“I’ve been served a 30-day notice three times here and I had to get a lawyer while living here just to protect me and my daughter,” she said. “I’m a teacher, I can’t afford to get a house I would if I could in a heartbeat.”

PacifiCap Management declined to be interviewed. But Director of Operations Dan Smith wrote in an email that since the property is income-restricted, rents are set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on an annual basis for low-income households in Bernalillo County.

He also wrote that PacifiCap offers month-to-month leases to give tenants more flexibility.

Tenants are also asking that PacifiCap fix broken air conditioning units that are endangering residents in the ongoing heat wave.

Anna Lee Desaulniers, People’s Housing Project, speaks to apartment residents about organizing tenant rights. (Jeanette DeDios / KUNM News)

Muniz said there has been no cooperation from the office management on these issues and maintenance staff have not been provided the equipment to do their jobs.

Smith wrote PacifiCap tries to address problems as soon as they’re reported. He said that the recent heat wave brought higher AC use and several units failed. The citywide demand for HVAC vendors and supply chain issues have also contributed to the problem and he said PacifiCap provides portable temporary AC units when equipment is being repaired.

Tenants with the help of the People’s Housing Project are demanding that Chad Rennaker, the CEO of PacifiCap, hear their demands in person but Muniz is skeptical.

“He’s not concerned about the residents. He is concerned about his pockets,” she said.

DeSaulniers with the People’s Housing Project said city officials need to protect housing security.

“We have not seen the political will from city officials to actually protect residents,” she said. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen them roll out the red carpet for developers and gentrifiers.”

The Sawmill Tenants Union will hold another meeting on Aug. 21, where they are asking PacifiCap Management or Rennaker to meet with them. Smith wrote that PacifiCap has on-site staff at the Artisan Apartments available to meet with residents at any time.

Searchlight New Mexico is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that seeks to empower New Mexicans to demand honest and effective public policy.